What is it that keeps the BJP from at least accepting that Narendra Modi is the front runner as its prime ministerial candidate? Has it given up hope of ever attaining a majoritarian mandate, and is reconciled to the conventional belief that India will not get out of coalition politics? Is it because even Atal Behari Vajpayee, the most across the board acceptable Indian politician after Nehru, could not garner a parliamentary majority for the party? Is it also of the opinion that the tactical voting by Muslims and the hold of regional politicians has no answer? In that sense, has it essentially accepted the ‘inclusive’ ideology of the Congress, for whom no principle is too sacred to ditch for the sake of power? Its identity as a ‘Hindu Nationalist Party’ has been reduced to merely a pejorative used by its detractors, rather than the source of its political motivation.
Or is it because sundry leaders are hoping against hope that coalitional politics might give them the opportunity to maneuver their way to the top?
BJP leader Yashwant Sinha is the first among the party leaders to propose Modi’s name for the candidature. This is, in a way, a return to the basics, as merely being the Congress ‘B’ team will never take the party to power. It is true that Modi is a contentious figure, having been ‘written off’ by much of Indian intelligentsia for alleged sins of omission and commission during the post-Godhra communal killings in Gujarat. The BJP leaders feel that the middle-of-the-road anti-Congress parties, who depend heavily on minority and caste votes to get elected, would refuse to join its pre-poll and post-poll coalition. They do not, however, take into account the methods successfully adopted by Modi in Gujarat to overcome these shortcomings. While Vajpayee appealed to the most refined among all sections of society, whose influence brought in the votes, Modi’s appeal is more egalitarian and attracts support directly. Maybe, his style of ‘roadroller’ politics needs its time under the Indian sun.
The party is particularly disheartened by the destruction of its mass base in the Hindi heartland, its original stronghold. The emergence of caste-based parties has destroyed the ‘Hindu’ votebank. However, things are coming full circle and an emerging middle-class could be attracted to Modi’s promise of development and make the distinction between voting for the Lok Sabha and the regional assembly – as the people of Uttarakhand, for instance, already do. The advantage of India’s first past the post system is that one only needs more votes than the nearest rival, rather than a statistical majority. So, the BJP needs only to add the portions of middle class from all sections along with its traditional vote bank to tip the numbers in its favour.
It is a gamble worth taking because there is no other option. To hope for the Congress to become so unpopular as to defeat itself is a very long shot. This is because there would be no special reason for the voter to consider the BJP an alternative, particularly as the Gadkaris have taken the shine off its moral ground. The regional outfits will benefit instead, with many of them being persuaded in various ways to support another UPA regime. With Modi, however, it will be a nationwide referendum on whether he comes or goes. And he might win!